Norm Macdonald, comedian and Saturday Night Live alum, dies at 61
Macdonald's management firm Brillstein Entertainment Partners confirmed his death to the Associated Press, adding that the comedian had battled cancer for nine years but kept his health struggles private.
Macdonald was best known for his five-year stint as an SNL cast member, particularly his run as Weekend Update anchor from 1994 to 1997. Macdonald developed several signature running gags during his time behind the Update desk, including recording a "note to self" on a tape recorder, referring to Germans' love of David Hasselhoff, and frequently mocking O.J. Simpson during the former athlete's murder trial. (After Simpson's acquittal, Macdonald famously quipped, "Well, it is finally official: Murder is legal in the state of California.") It has long been rumored that these jokes led to his firing from SNL in 1998, as NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer was a longtime friend of Simpson. Ohlmeyer said Macdonald was fired simply because he was not funny.
"I think the whole show was tired of me not taking marching orders," the comedian admitted later. "I'd do Michael Jackson jokes. And Lorne [Michaels] would say, 'Do you really want a lawsuit from Michael Jackson?' And I'd say, 'Cool! That'd be f---in' cool, Michael Jackson suing me!'"
Macdonald also helped create SNL's famous Celebrity Jeopardy sketch featuring Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek, with Macdonald frequently appearing as a defiantly uncooperative Burt Reynolds. ("The Celebrity Jeopardy sketch — the reason I really did it is because I wanted to do [my] Burt Reynolds [impression]," the comedian once told Howard Stern.) One of the most beloved sketches in SNL history featured Macdonald's Reynolds demanding to be addressed as "Turd Ferguson." (Why? "It's funny. It's a funny name.")
Outside of his SNL tenure, Macdonald was highly regarded in comedy circles for his distinctive deadpan style, rambling stories, and incisive perspective. One of his signature jokes involved a long story about a depressed moth visiting a podiatrist, with an apparent influence from Russian literature. (He often cited Leo Tolstoy as a favorite writer.) His unique approach and strong opinions on comedy garnered him a devoted, if not immense, following, with Jon Stewart and Seth Rogen among his fans.
Born in Quebec in 1959, Macdonald began his career performing stand-up at Canadian clubs and comedy festivals, before he was hired as a writer on Roseanne in 1992. After leaving SNL, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the 1998 comedy Dirty Work, about two friends who start a revenge-for-hire business. As with many films of its ilk, Dirty Work was poorly received upon release but has garnered a cult following in the decades since.
Macdonald's other ventures included various short-lived TV shows including the ABC sitcom The Norm Show, which ran from 1999 to 2001; the absurdist 2016 fake memoir Based on a True Story; and two acclaimed comedy specials, 2011's Me Doing Stand-Up and 2017's Hitler's Dog, Gossip & Trickery. He also became a popular late-night guest later in his life, making frequent appearances on Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show run and appearing as the final stand-up act on the Late Show With David Letterman in 2015. He also courted controversy in 2018 for comments perceived as critical of the #MeToo movement.
Despite his up-and-down career, Macdonald remained devoted to the craft of comedy, telling The New York Times in 2018, "In my mind, I'm just a stand-up."
"Making people laugh is a gift," he added. "Preaching to them is not a gift. There are people who can do that better."